It’s been a while (9/19) since I have written something for the column, but real life sucks; between grad school and putting my body through the wringer, priorities shifted and this kept getting pushed back. However, this hasn’t stopped me from listening to music and writing about other things, so we are going to continue the addenda. There are five genres left and then we can finally move on to other genres and whatever else I want to write about, because after two more genres, we might be going into no man’s land.
Also, when this gets published, it might be the new year, so Happy New Year, everyone!
Now, take my hand and let’s go down the rabbit hole of the remaining five genres, and see what other albums I have sitting in my queue. Prepare for some more personal picks, more bad jokes, and more stories as to why these albums have stuck with me over the years.
Folk Metal: Borknagar – Winter Thrice (2016): I feel like Borknagar doesn’t get enough credit for being an amalgamation of influences that somehow leans more towards folk metal despite sounding like the black metal bands we all know and love.
Now, granted, my love for Borknagar comes from my love for Vintersorg as, at the time, I was incredibly invested into Orkan and Naturbal. I remember being pushed to listen to this album by some friends who were mildly interested in my opinion of it, and when the first strains of ICS Vortex’s vocals came in on “The Rhymes of the Mountains” I was hooked.
It’s funny to me how Winter Thrice directly sends me back to 2016, a year that was so difficult for me emotionally that I didn’t think I was going to bounce back from it. I remember listening to this album, sitting at my desk at home and just thinking about how my future was going to work. I had just started writing about black metal and I wanted to prove that this wasn’t going to be some one-off thing that I would do once and then never again. Borknagar helped ease some of those doubts and made me think about music as something that could be discussed and criticized. In a sense, Winter Thrice made me think about music critically, and, for that, I love it.
Everything about it – from the melodies to the shared vocals to the atmosphere – is something to behold. I remember being impressed by it, as it was something different from all the other music I was into at the time. The music is catchy, filled with a sense of majesty that no album at the time could convey (no, not even Kamelot). It left me wanting to see what else was available for me to explore, and I have loved Borknagar since. I haven’t listened to True North as I am writing this – due to school and burnout – but I intend to correct that soon.
Obviously, I am more jaded now as a listener than I’ve ever been, but 22-year-old Hera had no idea what she was getting into as a reviewer and as a critical consumer of music. This album opened my eyes to what else was out there for me.
Now, speaking of Kamelot –
Power Metal: Powerwolf – Blessed & Possessed (2015): For a long time, I didn’t venture too much out of my comfort zone. This meant that my knowledge in power metal was limited to Kamelot and whatever other album I happened to stumble upon. During the same time I was expanding my horizons via musical bullet hell, my friend Kai suggested that I give Powerwolf a try. She told me that I would find it interesting, especially since they tend to be overtly sexual in nature. They also tend to be incredibly religious, albeit with an approach that borders on giggling during a church service when you think too hard about it.
Side note: Attila Dorn, the lead singer, can really pull off the whole “demonic preacher” deal well, especially with that baritone of his.
Anyway, my curiosity won out on my standard listening habits, and I decided to liveblog myself talking about each track on one of their albums. I chose Blessed and Possessed due to it being the most recent release at the time, as I tend to listen to a band’s most recent release if I know nothing about them. I didn’t know what to expect, but the more I listened to the album, the more I found myself thinking about context (and laughing hysterically). For example, here’s my commentary on the track “Christ and Combat”:
“Christ and Combat” is basically about the Crusades (?) and the major bullshit that happened afterward. People went to the Crusades to take down an empire and claim it as their own, and they were promised glory and a spot in heaven. Of course, you have to remember that the Crusades were motivated by both greed and religious fervor.
I would also like to point out that the song begins and ends with the same chant: “Say will you stand up for Christ and combat.” The first time you hear it, it sounds exciting and like a good cause to follow. Unfortunately, in the process, you either survive and live with guilt, or you die. Thus, at the very end, that same chant sounds angry and bitter, as if everything those soldiers did was for naught. (context)
Thinking back, Blessed and Possessed is hilarity in a rather cheesy way. Yes, it’s hypersexual in various instances and it makes me cackle, but the music is just so damn catchy that you can’t help but sing along. Even in the more sobering moments of the album – see the aforementioned “Christ and Combat” – the album is packed with over-the-top orchestrations, catchy choruses, and a fantastic atmosphere that allows the imagination to wonder about a castle in the outskirts of the city, where a lot of partying is happening. I know that Powerwolf have a rampant Gothic aesthetic that reminds people of werewolves and vampires, but they are fully committed to that aesthetic. After all, who can’t help but be slightly seduced by fun music being played at midnight?
Doom Metal: Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun (2017): Before someone decides to tell me that Chelsea Wolfe does not qualify as doom metal due to her most recent album and the various influences she uses in her music, I am going to stop you right there and tell you that Hiss Spun does, in fact, qualify as doom metal.
Experimental a la Created in the Image of Suffering, but experimental doom metal nonetheless.
I have been listening to Chelsea Wolfe since I became aware of the album Pain is Love in 2014, almost a year after its initial release. Although I don’t consider myself a fan of hers, I do think her music is very interesting, as it takes all these influences – the darkness of black metal, the intensity of doom metal, the haziness of sludge – and makes it her own, adding her own vocals to the mix. This, in short, creates an experience that borders on the dreamlike and the manic, all the while, you just must sit and listen to it, absorbing what she has to say.
Hiss Spun was the most recent album and the first one I decided to place on an EOY list in 2017, one of my most fruitful and hectic years since I became a reviewer. This album takes me back to that year, where I spent most of my time sitting on a train to get to work. It’s also where I spent most of my time listening to music, as I had a lot of time on my hands and I would just focus on an album and listen to it until I could no longer stomach it. I spent so much time listening to this album alone that I had to shelve it for two years, only recently listening to the first few tracks.
As my 2017 self can attest, my love for this album was strong:
“Now, I had high hopes for Hiss Spun, as I loved Abyss and I hoped she would have continued in that vein. It was dark, slow, and cacophonic, with some heavy experimentation that gave the album a personal edge I hadn’t heard previously. If you want to introduce someone to doom metal, this album might be the way to go. Hiss Spun simultaneously made me happy and scared, as it felt like I was looking into my own emotions. Given that the albums come from a very dark place, it doesn’t surprise me that Hiss Spun struck a chord with everyone who listened to it. You had to really get into a certain headspace to fully enjoy the album, because it can [get] uncomfortable. It is Chelsea’s strongest album to date, and I expect a lot more coming.” (context)
To this day, the songs “16 Psyche” and “Static Hum” still get to me on some emotional level. Although I have no idea what they are talking about or what they mean within the context of Hiss Spun, they still mean so much to me.
Gothic Metal: Poisonblack – Escapexstacy (2003): First rule of Escapexstacy: the album is a jam and it caused Poisonblack to show up in my 2019 Spotify Wrapped.
Second rule of Escapexstacy: prepare to fucking laugh at how cliché this album is.
Picture this: you are 15 years old, listening to Pandora and hoping that its algorithm hasn’t failed you yet when it comes to showing you new music. The song you are listening to ends, and you are immediately hit by a man with the deepest voice you have ever heard at this point sing “Lust equals fire when you come to me / Obsession and craving burning inside of me…” You feel like you encountered something forbidden, but you decide to ignore it and focus on the music, which is a bop.
That was my first introduction to Poisonblack via “All Else is Hollow.”
Steeped in gothic metal tropes that get played straight, Escapexstacy is an album essentially about the angst and the desire of a man who is so in love with his girlfriend, he can’t stop thinking about her. In fact, he’s so into her that he’s willing to let her do whatever she wants to him. Although there are some uncomfortable references to BDSM and death – he’s willing to die during sex if it pleases her! – it’s still a great listen. The music hooks you in and it’s catchy enough to sing along when you need to.
I listened to the album in full for the first time since its initial release this year and I wrote something about it. From what you can tell, I was having a great time:
“Making jokes aside, Escapexstacy is actually an excellent album. Yes, it hasn’t aged well, but there is some comfort to be found in its naïve sensuality, especially when you are a young girl who clearly has no experience with the outside world. Listening to this album now reminds me of all that pent-up angst and desire to be loved that made me question if I truly deserved to. Obviously now, I find its dramatics and over-the-top whispers of love to be charming, but I also know that if someone played “Love Infernal” for me, I might start singing along. The band may no longer be active, but its endless appeal is bound to make many question how Poisonblack got away with making an album that is essentially about sex.” (context)
I am easily amused by things that don’t require me to be serious.
Prog Metal: The Ocean – Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic (2018)
It’s funny how I was introduced to The Ocean (Collective) last year and their album immediately jumped to my top spot for EOY list season because of how intricate it is.
Although The Ocean have talked about the concepts of heliocentrism, anthropocentricism, and the many ages of the world on past albums, they all act as metaphors to describe different aspects of humanity. At first, I didn’t see it as such, though; in fact, I saw this album as a fascinating build of progressive metal with post-metal influences that left me bewildered. When I wrote about the album last year, I was mesmerized by the sheer heaviness and emotionality the album conveyed:
“Musically, Phanerozoic I is a massive entity, where a lot is happening and you can barely make sense of it. The deep, cinematic tones that straddle the line between progressive and experimental is one that deserves to be dissected and studied by everyone who comes across this album. There is also a lot of texture to how the music is constructed, as if you could touch it and feel it vibrate as it plays. This is the other album on this list that makes me feel like lying on the floor, blasting it, and then seeing how enthralling it would be. Phanerozoic I is an album that will make you lose track of time as you will lose yourself through its progressive tonalities as you travel through death, destruction, and possible rebirth.” (context)
I listened to the album from the day it dropped to the end of last year, but I still revisit it once every two weeks. What’s even wilder is that Jonas Renkse of Katatonia provides guest vocals, singing about the Devonian period of the Paleozoic era of the Phanerozoic Eon (our current timeline), which immediately hooked me into listening to the album.
Listen, Jonas could sing about anything and I would be very much into it. The Ocean essentially got him to sing about fish evolution and heartbreak.
However, the more I listened to the album, the more I began to look into the album’s human aspect. While this is a concept album on the Paleozoic era of the world, the humanistic aspect of the album is essentially about the end of a relationship. This whole album could be about the break-up of a long-term relationship, particularly one that ended badly. This becomes evident on one of my favorite songs, “Permian: The Great Dying,” which has the narrator/speaker talk about how he’s willing to get rid of his ex if she becomes a burden to him during the Great Dying. After all, with 95% of the population dying to the weather shifts on Earth, is she going to be one of the surviving 5%? Or is he actually going to murder her?
I guess we will find out in the coming year, because Phanerozoic II is coming out in 2020 and I can’t wait to see how much deeper they are willing to go into their artistic sociopathic narrator.
Whew. I finally did it.
Now, we can close this chapter of my life, and move on to other fun genres that I have an interest in.
Join me next time as I talk about the more technical aspects of death metal and differentiate between prog death and tech death.
Hasta la proxima!